Since I started working in the cannabis market about 4 years ago there has been a radical shift. Cannabis tech came from a place where I was ostracized by investors or potential business partners (like they love our idea but could never touch our market, sorry!) to ex-Prime Ministers and heads of military now taking the helm and leading new companies in Israel. It’s sort of nuts when you think about it.
Creating much of a buzz, I might add. The most ridiculous of all is how Israeli law doesn’t manage to catch up with or bother with what’s going on in the society.
Ask a number of high tech guys who have emerged from a military intel unit and they will tell you the “secret sauce” to Israeli high tech is cannabis. Smoking it. The marijuana plant takes the edge off of stress and can be a powerful creative force to geeks who are stuck in a bunker six days a week without sunlight. Consider that half of Israel has PTSD from the army and situation. Guess how cannabis helps there? Very much.
So while the guys who are inventing tomorrow’s technology are getting high (it’s easy to find cannabis on the streets if you want it) and Israel’s contemporary leaders are investing their reputations and lives on it, it is remarkable that it is still illegal in Israel. Read about the Telegrass shakedown.
Unless you are one of the lucky to spend a year pretending to take powerful and addictive opiates (those I know just pretend to take them) and eventually get a prescription for the cannabis plant -– you just have to find a way to self medicate and risk possible repercussions if caught using, or worse growing and dealing.
So while the world is abuzz about Israeli cannabis technology and research, often thanks to the pioneering professor Israeli Raphael Mechoulam, cannabis is really out of reach for most people here. Even those that get the prescription face dehumanizing lines and shortages, suggesting that much needs to be done locally to match the golden reputation that Israel has earned abroad.
A corollary to the grey market cannabis business which has the potential to be the next big market from Israel like cyber and fintech, and a market that is not lauded publicly but which is known for making Israeli millionaires and billionaires among the richest in Israel is casino tech, often known as the “gaming industry”.
Companies like Israel’s Playtech (Tegi Sagi) are known for fueling the growth and demand for online casinos globally, and ironically it is these companies which are illegal in countries like America where Sheldon Adelson and his Israeli wife lay claim to the casino billions in Las Vegas where it’s okay to play slots in the flesh, but not online.
Laws in Israel are less clear in this regard and in the years past there have been ways for both the online and in person casinos to thrive. When I first came to Israel I used to teach pottery to a number of women who’d come from Hungary to work in the underground casinos in the Holon/Rishon area. They got scared when the threat of bombs started dropping. But before then the plan was to work in Israel for 5 to 10 years and then save up enough money to buy land and build a house in Hungary or the Ukraine at a time when it was impossible for young people to achieve these basic dreams.
Like many things in Israel (politics, electric bikes, driving!) it is very hard to talk about anything in terms of black and white. Every new industry, especially complicated ones (gambling is not permitted according to Jewish Halacha) yet so many fortunes have been made in gambling that have gone on to fund perhaps more honorable professions like biotech and cleantech.
Even pig farmer, though technically illegal in Israel, can be found in certain villages where they grow the pigs on wooden platforms to avoid the prohibition of raising the pigs in the land of Israel!
Speak to a number of angel investors from Israel like Gigi Levi Weiss and you might be surprised to find their biggest earnings in the early days came from investing in companies like 888 from Israel, a gaming tech company founded in the 90s by two sets of brothers.
Most people might not shake a stick at the gaming industry the same way they might avoid investing in Bitcoin or cryptocurrencies. The cannabis industry is a little bit different from both of them especially now that companies are seeking not only easy ways to enter the market with new products, but as they do continue to seek out approval from the FDA and ministries that will one day hopefully grant them licenses and approvals to be bonafide pharmaceutical companies.